This Old House

After my husband died and I sold our family home of 37 years, I fantasized about walking back into that home one more time. Would it be like walking back into the life I lost?

For seven years, I couldn’t take this step. It was too painful. I wasn’t ready to go back to what used to be and who I was, a happily married wife and mom. That was lost to me much like my husband, our dog, and my father all within the same year. And it was all bundled into one foggy, sad memory. 

“Why do you want to see the house now?” someone asked me. I just coughed, cleared my throat, and sloughed off her question. I started to tear up and didn’t want her to see that. (I was thinking to myself as well, why does she really care?) 

The second phase of my married life, where we became first-time parents and raised our three children, started and ended in that house. We experienced births, bar mitzvahs, big birthdays, anniversaries, gatherings with friends, large family get-togethers and so  much more. It was also the house where my husband became sick and struggled for five years to get well. 

But in some ways, my husband’s death and my effort two years after to purge our house of its massive contents and move to a condo in a new area, was a metaphor for cleaning out my old life to start anew. That’s just the way I had to do it. 

Many of the carefully saved bits and pieces that documented my married life from age 22 to 66…old garden and exercise equipment, sheet music and musical instruments, vintage clothing from my grandmother, and on and on, were gone, given away, tossed out by my move, or appropriated by new people who passed through my front door the day I had an estate sale. 

With most of the artifacts of my married years gone, but not all, I came to realize that I had to clean out what had been to become what could be. 

And suddenly seven years later, I found myself becoming extremely sentimental for what was. Now I’m truly on my own for the first time in my life with unlimited time to grieve. I am still sad many days also learning how to live for myself---I had never done so as the eldest of four siblings, going from my parents’ home at age 22 to my married home, and then raising three children. 

Part of the healing, I thought, might happen if only I could hear the screen door of our family home squeeze closed, to take one last look at the gigantic Jacuzzi tub in what had been our master bathroom, or walk into the music room we built. Perhaps going back “home” would help me know that this part of my life had been real. 

I mustered my courage and called to see if the new owners would mind my coming over. I drove by and walked up to the front door. I pulled open the screen door and let it rest on the back of my calf as I‘d done hundreds of times before. I knocked on the door with the knocker that still bears our family name. I rang the bell. Moments later, a young woman with straight brown hair and azure blue eyes opened the door. I was greeted also by her 10-year-old rescued Schnauzer, Cooper. I smiled and introduced myself. Could I see what the house looks like now? Was this an intrusion? 

She hesitated and then said kindly, “Come in. Of course it’s okay.” 

As I stepped into the entrance hall, I noticed a few things that had changed. Wallpaper was gone. Most of the front of the house was the same. The back part of the house had been completely altered to fit a growing family. The kitchen had been extended over the patio and a new patio built where our swimming pool used to be. The bookshelves that housed hundreds of my husband’s vinyl records in the music room were still there. Gone was the wall separating the kitchen from music room, a victim of the open floor plan to the kitchen that the new owners wanted. The paint colors were less neutral than we had chosen. The windows had been tempered and in some cases changed. The wood floors still lovely were uncovered except for a few scattered area rugs.   

“We moved the kitchen out over what had been the patio,” the woman pointed out. “I see that,” I commented as I noticed that all the lovely shrubbery, rose bushes, one large tree and hydrangeas were gone with nothing else in their place. It looked barren. The once asphalt driveway was now white cement. “As you can see, we filled in the pool.” I didn’t want to tell her that I had heard about it.

“Oh, what a good idea,” I said. I wanted her to think I approved of her decorating and design decisions. 

I walked up the stairs. The new owner smiled nervously and pointed out, “It’s the same tile. In fact, we didn’t change the bathrooms at all.” I simply nodded. 

Would you like to see the basement? she asked. I walked down the steps and remembered the carpeting we put down there. She had replaced it with nice neutral berber wall-to-wall carpeting I noticed as we wended our way through toys and shelves to the laundry room. 

“My kids use this main area as a playroom,” she said. When we lived there, the centerpiece of this room was a pool table. I peeked into the tiny room aka office where Barbara and I wrote our first book. I had left behind the office built ins in which dozens of children’s toys were stacked. So much the same yet new occupants, I thought. 

At that point, I realized being in this house reinforced the fact that it wasn’t mine any longer. I thanked her and left. Once back in the car, I exhaled and the tears came in torrents. I laughed through the tears calling it my Hurricane Harvey downpour. The house that had been ours was now theirs.  

Shortly after, pulling into the garage of my condo building, I realized that seeing my old home reconfigured and redecorated, did not bring it back to me. It was no longer mine. But all was not lost. When I went to bed that night and closed my eyes, I could see my home as it once was when it was ours.

Where we live can be transitory, but a memory endures. The memory of our home was where it would happily now remain forever.   





1 comment

  • Savitri

    Thanks for this I can totally relate to it.

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